Recently I read Rachel Manley’s account of her grandmother’s life, Horses in Her Hair. It is a book that touched me on many levels – as an account of the life of an artist, with all its rewards and complexities; as an account of life in Jamaica at the time, and the political winds that blew through their lives; as another reflection of the island and the times I grew up in.
Rachel’s grandmother was Edna Manley, a driving force in the artistic life of Jamaica and a strong, passionate and creative artist in her own life. I knew Edna Manley through her work, and particularly through one of her sculptures that brought it’s grace and beauty to our home.
New Moon’s graceful arcs were so much a part of my growing up that I absorbed them without being conscious of it. I look now at pictures of her, and see again the elegance of her shape and the delicacy of her hands, the way that light reflects sensuously off her curves, the upward lift of face and hair, her chiseled surface. As a child I would reach out when no-one was looking to stroke those hands gently – that they were actually delicate and to be treated gently was something we were often reminded of, and the reason she traveled little and very carefully. She looked so strong, poised there, that it seemed her hands should have been able to shape whatever the world brought to her.
Physically, pictures of her are all we have now, yet it seems she lives on, like a departed member of our family, in our memories and hearts. I am glad we had a chance to have her in our family and in our world, and hope that those who are able to see her now will appreciate her beauty and strength and delicacy.
Occasionally a pale reflection of her creeps into my work…